Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The thought police

A friend e-mailed me this from the Guardian, about new plans to crack down on student immigration scams. The thrust of the idea seems to be that universities should report on them, which seems sensible enough until you go into the actual details of what they're asking. I can see the sense in reporting people who drop out of or are thrown off courses - if you're here on a student visa, the people who've decided you aren't actually fit to be a student probably have some responsibility to inform the relevant authorities.

But the new rules go a lot further. Apparently Universities should also be reporting anyone who misses more than ten hours of lectures or seminars. For someone doing more than five hours in a day, that would seem to mean you can spend two days sick, depressed or demotivated and get placed on a watch-list. Foreign students often have a hard time fitting in at universities, and I really don't see that helping.

More inexplicably still, the rules also mandate that, in addition to being able to pay their fees, students should be able to declare £800 a month: seriously? Is there some special reason why we want to limit our foreign student intake to the children of foreign plutocrats? I've managed to eat, live, pay rent and spend a significant amount of time drunk as a skunk in the past few months, and I'm doing it on much less than £800 a month. Even in London, you'd think a frugal, hard-working student - the sort who would be a real benefit to a course, and would really need the degree - would be able to get by on a lot less than that.

And it gets weirder. Apparently "alomost 300 bogus colleges have been uncovered in the past three years, many involved in immigration scams." And this seems to be a motivating factor in the legislation. According to the Home Office: "This new route for students will ensure we know exactly who is coming here to study and stamp out bogus colleges who facilitate the lawbreakers."

Is anyone else confused here? Let's say I'm a bogus college, making my money largely from selling my "educational services" to foreigners looking for student visas. How likely does it seem that I'll start reporting that my customers are actually not the studious souls they claim to be, but actually filthy blighters gaming the system so badly that we may be in danger of finally giving Richard Littlejohn a stroke as he ponders the unfairness of it all from his Florida mansion?

I suppose, charitably, you could guess that the idea is to make it easier to prosecute the bogus colleges - if they aren't reporting enough fake students, it could constitute evidence of "bogus college" status - but this seems like a hugely disproportionate tool for doing it. All the real colleges and universities end up with an increased regulatory burden, a seriously compromised ability to talk to foreign students about legitimate problems, a much smaller base of quality foregin students to actually recruit from (only the fantastically wealthy need apply), and quite possibly an increasing divide between foreign and domestic students.

I know that the whole idea that government should try and pursue its objectives so as to minimally infringe the liberty of the individual is a hopelessly unfashionable idea these days (and doubly so when that individual isn't even a doughty British citizen). But even setting aside my quaint notions about the rights of man, I think there are pretty good reasons to think that the collateral damage here far outweighs any possible benefits, if only in terms of all that guff about making sure we have cutting-edge Universities.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this mate, as time passes by I get more and more mad. As an international student I can say that this just makes me feel like I came to this country praying for mercy to let me have access to the cutting-edge knowledge originated in Brisish universities. I thought that British authorities considered that we came to make an input in the country, be it now or in the future as workers, and even if we leave the country, we will go back to our own countries and will reproduce the British way to organise, manage and assess research projects. That actually helps the imperialistic project of the very same authors of these stupid new rules.

So.. this is not only about stupidly "disencouraging" new students from coming, but also making people like me want to leave the country ASAP.. I don't want to be a fourth level citizen, feeling for years that I have to thank every British person for letting me work in here and being suspected of terrorism everytime I send an email or read Red Pepper.

In my country (Argentina) immigrants have exactly the same rights as nationals, by law. Even if in reality it's much more complicated than that, there is field for immigrants to claim for the same rights we have, and for us to struggle with them for their rights, as several social movements do. That's where I want to live.

Thank you mate!

11 November, 2008 13:48  
Blogger Jayne said...

On the bogus college front, so this crackdown is coming about to stop immigration "scams"... negelecting to consider (at least for the purpose of the media) that actually some of these colleges are extracting money from overseas students who want to study for a qualification that has an international reputation and a useful set of skills they can take back home with them to build other skills and develop infrastructure and services etc in their home country. I've come across several people who were accepted onto courses by colleges I had never heard of, when they had been rejected by respected institutions because quite frankly they didn't have the requisite skills and experience to complete the course. They would however, have paid horrendous amounts of money, got their student visas, arrived and quite possibly been hugely disappointed to find they were not going to return home a year later with their hoped for qualification.
But presumably we're only bothered when it seems that we're losing out somehow (although even the logic on that idea is clearly flawed but I will happily elaborate on that later...), we're not bothered if these students are losing out or more frankly, being exploited through these schemes.
As usual, the point is being missed hugely on the benefits of International students being in UK Universities (which, the financial fees based contribution, though perhaps the most quantifiable is just one of a list of benefits I can think of).
That aside, this whole issue needs to be considered within the wider immigration climate in the UK at the moment, which I will attempt to start to do later, at length (!), when I have a bit more time...

12 November, 2008 12:12  

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